If you approached me and asked, “Hey Josh, would you like to play a history-based trivia game,” I’d likely punch you in the face. If you instead asked, “Would you like to play Timeline, the history-based card game from Asmodee?” Absolutely!
That doesn’t make any sense, right? I don’t understand it either, but I find myself utterly captivated by Timeline’s ability to make me excited about tomatoes, disco, and modern medicine.
Timeline, designed by Frédéric Henry, is a 2-8 player micro-sized card game which tests your knowledge of historical events and discoveries. In fact, if you wanted to argue that Timeline is barely a “game,” you wouldn’t find much opposition from me. The game consists of 109 double-sided cards; on one side, beautiful drawings depict various events or discoveries throughout the universe’s entire history. Examples of cards include “The discovery of pandas (by Europeans)” or “Whiskey.” On the opposite side of each card, the corresponding year of discovery or invention is displayed, though this information is kept face-down and hidden from the players.
The game begins with one random event with its year displayed in the center of the table. Players are dealt a hand of cards and take turns playing them one at a time, attempting to correctly place them in the central timeline. Was the corkscrew invented before the can opener? Once a card is placed somewhere in the timeline, it’s flipped to display the actual year of discovery. If correct, the card remains within the timeline and the player’s turn is done. If the card’s placement was incorrect, meaning its year does not fall before or after its adjacent cards, it is discarded and the player draws a replacement. The objective is to be the first player to completely run out of cards.
Timeline comes in five distinct flavors that are purchased separately: Inventions, Historical Events, Science & Discoveries, Music & Cinema, and Diversity (a hodge-podge of events from all fields.) Playing with a single set tests your knowledge of a specific area of study; Science & Discoveries includes events like “The discovery of DNA” and “The discovery of Easter Island,” while “Inventions” features cards such as “Morse Code.” And while utilizing a single Timeline deck is entertaining and even (gasp!) educational, the real fun comes from mixing multiple versions together into a smorgasbord of delicious historical niblets.
The game is incredibly simple and quick, with most games lasting no more than 15 minutes. However, the enjoyment of Timeline is derived from the absurdity of the chronological decisions you are presented with. Where exactly does the Y.M.C.A. fit into this timeline? Did they form after the invention of Texas Hold ’em? Or was it somewhere around the time when pandas were discovered by Europeans (also known as the most important era in history, obviously.)
Once people start to memorize specific cards, much of the challenge and entertainment of Timeline is diminished. Combining multiple expansions together helps mitigate the chances of memorization by just flooding players with so many cards and years to remember. The more events and inventions to juggle, the more likely it is to mix them all up in one’s head. This unfortunately turns a very inexpensive game ($15) into a more pricey experience by picking up all five editions of Timeline, costing as much as large games like Agricola or A Game of Thrones. As an educational gateway game for gamers and non-gamers alike, it might be worth it for some to purchase the entire collection.
The other issue with Timeline is that some of the cards are just a bit too vague. What exactly does “The discovery of modern anatomy” mean? Is it referring to when the human anatomy was first documented in scientific journals? Dissection and study of the human body dates all the way back to ancient Egypt as well as Aristotle and other Greek philosophers. What exactly constitutes as “modern” anatomy? Thankfully most cards are clear enough to understand their intent with only a handful of head-scratchers in each set.
Despite its issues, Timeline continues to impress me by striking that precarious balance of education and entertainment, while also providing a fast and portable game for any occassion. It’s not a revolutionary game that will stand side-by-side with the gaming giants of the world, but it fills a valuable niche in any gamer’s collection, granted you aren’t playing it every single day and memorizing every card.